‘Backlash’ against GMOs may be more about corporate power than science

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Much of the backlash against GMOs is less about genetic engineering and more about the business practices of the corporations that control our food supply. GMO crops have been a money-maker for herbicide companies—and as crops have been modified to be herbicide-resistant, herbicide use increases. For companies making GMO seeds and associated herbicides, that’s a lot of power over something as critical as how we feed ourselves.

As we continue to confront and sort out the ethics of it all, however, we can’t neglect the potential good that genetic engineering may bring. We might even look beyond pests and weeds in the future. Plants could be engineered to produce more nutrients to improve our diet or to be more resilient to climate change, or even to protect the environment instead of just reducing agriculture’s impact on it.

GMOs are part of the larger genetic engineering debate, which is only going to intensify. New techniques are getting easier, cheaper, and more precise by the year. Tech can do damage or be a force for good; the real trick is weighing risk and benefit impartially and making choices that steer us in the right direction.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: The Future of Food: To GMO or Not To GMO?

For more background on the Genetic Literacy Project, read GLP on Wikipedia

  • Alokin

    First, those who have the idea that organic is better because it is free of pesticides are decidedly wrong. Organic growers use pesticides and synthetic pesticide residues are allowed under the USDA Organic label.

    Second, while herbicide use patterns may change due to production systems that incorporate herbicide resistant crop plants, saying that herbicide use increases is an oversimplification. (As is ignoring the many uses of GE for crop improvement that have nothign to do with pesticides.) http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2017/04/gmos-and-herbicides-its-complicated/

    However, I do appreciate the fact that Ms Ramirez ultimately came to the right conclusion: “…the real trick is weighing risk and benefit impartially and making choices that steer us in the right direction.”

    • The question is do those who want to change genetics for profit actually consider any risks at all? In particular, what about the risk of GMO contamination of conventional, organic, and heirloom grasses, legumes, and produce that will be nearly impossible to stop?

      I was thankful that no alfalfa is grown near my pastures and hopefully bluegrass won’t thrive this far south. And then I found out there is GMO rye grass. Just how do you expect us to be able to keep that out if local cattle ranchers start growing it?

      The diets of horses and people have already been permanently altered. Most horses used to eat grains primarily made from corn, soy, linseed meal and soybean meal. All of those now have GMO versions and are at risk of GMO contamination.

      So horses that used to be fed grain were switched to just alfalfa to increase protein levels over grass hays. Now it is GMO, so they have to try to maintain their weight on just grass hay. When that, too, is contaminated, where can we move where non-GMO grass can still exist?

      That works in some breeds, but have you ever tried to keep weight on a Thoroughbred broodmare nursing a foal on just grass alone?

      As with horses, the diets of people have to continually change. Every crop that has a GMO version is removed from my diet. I miss sweet corn, but unless someone starts growing it inside a hoop house, it is too likely to be contaminated now.

      More and more foods have GMO versions now. No more zucchini or yellow squash unless grown organically in a hoop house. Even tomatoes aren’t safe. Do you scientists plan to leave us anything to eat? Or is your long-term vision to GMO every food crop that exists?

      Maybe we’ll have to plow up the grass and plant bumper crops of dandelions for both our livestock and humans to eat. Maybe you won’t GMO the weeds.

      Either that, or move somewhere so remote that hopefully, impossibly, we can grow something that isn’t genetically contaminated.

      • Alokin

        Why are you concerned about “contamination” in the first place? There is no credible evidence that indicates GE traits represent significant risk of harm to animals or the environment.

        People have been changing genetics for profit for a very long time using conventional and other breeding techniques like mutagenesis. Those enterprises are called “seed companies” or “commercial plant nurseries”; the only thing that has changed is the addition of certain biotech tools.

        Products of GE technologies undergo far more scrutiny and consideration of risk than do the products of conventional breeding techniques, and unlike conventional breeding techniques, the producers of GE crops have a precise understanding of the genetic changes they are making so they can predict and test for potential negative consequences such as allergenicity. Conventional plant breeders are under absolutely no obligation to test for possible negative consequences before releasing a new variety for sale.

        • If you want to risk your health, your longevity and your life to GMO which you feel won’t have any unintended consequences in the future, that should be your right.

          I should have a right to not have my food sources and land contaminated with what is not natural that I do not want. People have been crossing plants and animals that are closely related for forever.

          They have not been playing god and crossing unrelated life forms for every long. Try thinking about this from a different viewpoint. Why should anyone be permitted to change the genetics of everyone else on the planet against the will of others who have no choice but to live here?

          There is nothing very precise about the early methods of doing genetic modification. Maybe some are more precise now – and maybe they’re not. But one thing I guarantee you none of them have is the ability to foresee the unintended consequences of their actions.

          They are welcome to take those risks with their own lives, but they should not be allowed to risk everyone and everything else. There are abundant examples of the unintended consequences of bringing in invasive species that change environments forever.

          Here is a simple example. What happens if terminator seed technology starts jumping and ends up sterilizing more and more types of plants? This could “GE” us into plants being unable to reproduce.

          I never argued for conventional growing. They are making their own serious mistakes. Clearing land for monocultures and using chemicals to try to grow one crop and kill off everything else is limiting habitat and killing off bees in multiple ways.

          How about putting the brakes on and going back to working with nature and health instead of finding even more ways to destroy the soil and plants that ends up damaging the health of all life? I don’t suppose you would consider doing that instead?

          Put yourself in the shoes of someone who wants to grow organically and only have their animals eat non-gmo grasses and plants. Then lay out your plan for exactly how they can protect their land from GMO.

          Spreading GMO everywhere that we can will never be able to stop is just as dangerous as using nuclear power when we have no idea how to contain the radioactive waste it produces. People have no common sense who advocate changes we cannot control with consequences we cannot foresee.

          • Alokin

            All of your concerns would be valid, if there was evidence to support them, but there is not, so you have to fall back on the “as God intended” appeal to nature or having zero tolerance for unintended consequences regardless of how implausible they may be.

            What happens if terminator seed technology starts jumping and ends up sterilizing more and more types of plants?

            I don’t know, but do you realize that there are no GE crops that employ terminator seed technology nor is there any intention to do so. Not because of any real risk, but because lies and misinformation about that technology made it too hot to handle. Concern about terminator seeds is just another anti-GMO myth.

            As for gene flow and seed production, there is always concern about unwanted hybridization of open-pollinated varieties, which is why great care is taken to isolate mother blocks in order to produce true-to-type seed using conventional breeding techniques and the same strategies can be used for GE seed production.

            But lets say a seed producer was growing a deregulated GE seed crop next to a non-GE variety of the same species, what’s going to happen? There may be a small bit of GE genes in the non-GE seed crop. The only consequence would be that the “contaminated” seed may not meet some arbitrary standard for non-GMO purity. If satisfying some arbitrary non-GMO purity standard were important, and I understand that it can be, then seed producers can simply manage their practices accordingly.

            A simple example would be if GE salmon get released into the wild. Their traits could permit them to wipe out all other salmon.

            Yet another poorly informed claim. AquAdvantage technology is based on regulating a salmon’s existing genes to cause them to grow more rapidly, the same sort of thing has been done through conventional, selective breeding processes and millions of non-GE domesticated salmon have already escaped into the wild without negative consequences. (In addition, AquAdvantage salmon are all infertile females, but I am sure you don’t think that means anything since you subscribe to “nature finds a way” logic.)

            On this issue, it never ceases to amaze me how some people are more influenced by Jurassic Park fiction than they are by real science and credible evidence.

          • You are focusing only on protecting seed production while I am talking about what we actually eat. You fail to separate the difference between breeding selectively and manipulating genetics. Are you really going to compare the size differences that can be attained through selective breeding and genetically engineered salmon? Are you saying these photos are fake https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/business/genetically-engineered-salmon-approved-for-consumption.html?_r=0 or that someone has managed to do that through selection?

          • Alokin

            AquAdvantage salmon put on weight faster, but their final size is about the same as other salmon of the same species.

            As long as you depend on the popular media for your information and don’t develop a more complete understanding of the science that underpins GE, you are destined to fear the unknown and rage against something that could be of great benefit to everyone.

            I want a sustainable, safe food supply too. GE simply does not represent the threat that you imagine it does.

          • The photographs were published by the people promoting the technology – not by someone dabbling in doctored photos.

          • Alokin

            So? If what you say is true, then they are trying to put the best face possible on their product. The big fish is not some monster mutant, it is just bigger and when full grown will be of normal size. Conventional breeding accomplishes the same thing with poultry, hogs, cows, etc., only it takes longer. Again, you offer no evidence to show there are any harmful effects associated with AquAdvantage salmon, only that the process is not natural and not part of God’s plan.

          • How can you argue that terminator seeds might not do exactly what they’re intended to do? If they are not currently being tested anywhere they could escape, that would be a relief. I rather doubt that technology has been entirely abandoned.

            Some are wise enough to not be willing to wait until the damage is irreversible so that those who are not wise can wait for proof. If you scientists can figure out how to keep your GMO experiments contained and away from other people’s property there would still be the risk of escape.

            That you don’t even care if you contaminate everything is my greatest concern. Your position is that you have the right to do to us whatever you wish. My position is that you shouldn’t.

          • Alokin

            No, the technology has not been abandoned, scientists are still developing it, but it has not been used commercially.

            Do you realize that the transgenes in question already exist in nature? Can you imagine a way such genes would be spread and harm other plants? Why isn’t there evidence of that in nature since the genes have been out there for millennia? One of the points of the whole enterprise is to prevent gene flow. For instance, by causing pollen to be sterile. How does sterile pollen pass its genetic material to other plants? How do plants that can’t reproduce pass on such traits? Genes just don’t float around in the environment and incorporate themselves in some random fashion.

            Would you say the same thing about gene therapies being developed to treat disease and save human lives? The technology is just too dangerous and contrary to God’s plan so it should not be allowed?

            I’m sorry to say that you have simply succumbed to an irrational fear of GE technology.

          • You can’t even imagine the desire to only eat what is most healthy in any manner except an “irrational fear”. Look around you at the declining health, obesity and drug addiction epidemics. Anyone with common sense can see the consequences of not eating real food.

            I remember when whole milk, eggs and butter were suddenly “bad” for you. Two generations before me when people ate those “bad” foods, they were healthy and clear-minded throughout life. Now, we have rampant chronic diseases from eating so-called “nutritionally-balanced” packaged crap.

            So-called “modern” medicine treats symptoms and causes side-effects far more than they ever actually fix anything. If your car mechanic treated you the same way doctors do, instead of adding oil when the check engine light was on, he would unplug the warning light. And then you’d sue him for incompetence.

            I don’t have any problem with people volunteering to be experimented on until what is done has generational consequences. I am very glad that I won’t be around to experience the unintended consequences of dabbling with human DNA as well as all other life on earth. Hopefully, it will take them another few decades to irreversibly harm life so badly that it can’t be avoided by living very remotely – and by then I hope to not be alive anymore.

          • Alokin

            What is more likely, that obesity and unhealthy diet are due to overconsumption sugar, fat, alcohol, and highly processed foods along with a lack of eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables or that transgenes in corn and soy are responsible? Me thinks you are not seeing the forest for the trees.

        • To intentionally damage genetics should not be done. I would object just as much to mutagenesis as I do to any other genetic modification. Yes, stupid people can inbreed plants or animals and get worse plants and animals. But the potential for creating invasive species that will wipe out the natural varieties is less and would take a lot longer. One science experiment gone awry could wipe out multiple food sources.

          A simple example would be if GE salmon get released into the wild. Their traits could permit them to wipe out all other salmon.

  • Be prepared to be shocked and disgusted by this Youtube video of a high school student making a presentation where he uses the Seralini rat study as the primary guide in his talk and experiment.
    https://youtu.be/OPgr3Qv-N1k
    I wrote emails to his teacher and his school principal and copied to the GLP info address. Please add your comments to mine on the page below the video.

    • Alokin

      I’m sure it turned out to be a teachable moment on critical thinking …not!